Literary as hell.

Tag: jonathan dean

“New Wine,” by Jonathan Dean

Marcus Valerius was one very bored soldier. The enthusiasm he had previously displayed at becoming a proud Roman centurion was rapidly disappearing under the hot Palestinian sun. It was past noon, two hours into his watch at the tiny military outpost between the villages of Cana and Nazareth. He had been assigned this posting, as an inexperienced recruit, so that he could ‘develop his skills as a soldier’. Starting from the bottom up was how he saw it.

The outpost was no more than a few small buildings where he and four other cohorts slept, ate and watched the travellers pass by. It was perched on a bluff overlooking the road which took a sharp turn to the North a few stadia away. Usually the dusty road was busy with traffic. You could never see who was coming until they turned the bend and hove into sight. There might be Syrians on horseback, wagon trains of supplies to and from Capernaum, camels and their Egyptian riders, all kinds of local Galileans: Samaritans, both good and otherwise, and many, many travellers on foot.

But today it was all very quiet. Barely more than a handful of people had passed by and Marcus Valerius had little to do. He propped his spear and shield beside a large rock and wandered round his assigned post. Occasionally he took out his short sword and made a few practice thrusts, some imaginary enemy coming to mind. A quick campaign in Gaul, or even Britannia, was needed to put some excitement back in his life. But he had been posted to Palestine and he had to do his time. There were always squabbles to be sorted out between the local inhabitants, taxes to be collected and, in general, law and order to be enforced. Marcus had come to think of himself as more of a policeman than a soldier, major criminals being dispatched to Jerusalem to be dealt with by the authorities in that city.

He cooled himself in the shade of a tree and waited. The heat and general lack of activity had made him reflective. And so, the arrival of the next traveller caught him unprepared. He didn’t actually see him coming down the road from Cana because of the bend that hid him from sight. But he certainly heard him!

The singing was loud and discordant. And the singer was very drunk. He rode into sight, seated precariously on a donkey. The animal was loaded on either side with baskets of fruit. The rider would occasionally reach into the baskets, extract an orange, study it carefully as if he wasn’t sure of what he was transporting, then toss it nonchalantly over his shoulder so that it landed with a dull plop on the ground. He swayed on the donkey’s back which resulted in the poor beast wandering all over the road.

Marcus Valerius straightened himself, picked up his spear and waited for the man and donkey to reach him. As they drew opposite, the couple stopped, whereupon the rider promptly fell off the animal. Marcus grabbed the rope that circled the donkey’s neck, which halted any idea the beast might have had about fleeing. He led it to a tree and tied it to a branch. Then he turned his attention to the man who was making feeble attempts to rise. Marcus took a handful of not-too-clean tunic and hauled the fellow to a semi-upright position.

He was young and obviously worked at some menial task. His tunic was soiled and tattered and his sandals were in desperate need of repair. In one hand he clutched a leather water bottle which he waved in the air, and from which he took constant sips. Marcus propped him up against a rock at the side of the road where he promptly slid into a heap, his legs giving way beneath him. The soldier looked down at this sorry sight.

“Tell me now, traveller, what has caused you to be in this state?” The heap on the ground gave no coherent answer, just a lot of giggles and more waves of the water bottle.

“What’s your name? Where have you come from?” Marcus tried again but it was obvious he was not going to get much from the man in his present condition.

“Wait here,” he commanded, not really expecting the other to go very far, and he walked over to the well that supplied the little outpost. Filling a bucket, he returned to the man lying on the ground and tipped the contents over him.

“Water! That’s good!” the man spluttered, shaking his head from the dousing. He managed to raise himself up into a sitting position and tried to get his bearings. “Do that again,” he requested. Marcus Valerius obliged with another trip to the well.

“It tastes like water,” the traveller informed the Roman soldier when he had regained a modicum of sobriety.

“What did you expect?” came the terse reply.

“It’s not like the stuff up the road.”

“That’s because all local waters taste different. Salts, minerals, they all change the taste.”

“There are no salts or minerals in this,” said the traveller, waving his water flask.

“If it’s water, there will be some,” Marcus informed him.

“Take a sniff.” The flask was held out by a dirty hand. Marcus took it tentatively and held it to his nose. There was no ‘lack of smell’ which could possibly have signified water was present. Instead, over the odour of leather, came the sweet aromatic smell of wine. He tipped the flask carefully and caught the few drops that appeared. He raised his hand to his lips and licked at the liquid. It was wine; good wine, from what he could tell. Not just the ordinary local brew but something considerably more superior.

“You have wine in this flask,” he informed the man who was still sitting on the ground, waiting for a reaction from the soldier.

“Well done, centurion!” Marcus was temporarily promoted to the aspired-for rank. “And how did it get in there, do you imagine?”

“You put it in there, obviously,” was the reply.

“I thought I put water in there. But that isn’t water. It’s good stuff. Took me by surprise.”

“How do you mean ‘took you by surprise’?” Marcus wondered how this individual could afford wine of this quality. Perhaps he had stolen it.

“It was in the water jugs,” the man explained. “At a villa in Cana. I stopped to deliver fruit – there’s quite a wedding going on – and they needed oranges. So when I was finished and they sent me on my way, I stopped at the gate. They always have jugs of water there. The master leaves them for travellers; anyone passing can fill his flask. I went to fill my flask, the jug was empty and I told the man checking the guests at the gate. He took it to the well and filled it with water. I watched him do it. I filled my flask from that jug and got on my donkey and left.” He waved at the animal standing patiently under the tree. “It was only a ways down the road that I took a drink from the flask. Imagine my surprise. Wine! So how come wine got in the well?” He passed a hand over his lips, and then settled himself more comfortably on the ground. “It’s good quality, too!”

This long explanation seemed to tire him out and he closed his eyes. Marcus could see his head drooping as the residual alcohol caught up with his brain. Further information from this source would not be immediately forthcoming.

Being responsible for keeping law and order in this part of the world was part of Marcus’s job. After considering how to handle this situation, relatively minor as it was but intriguing, nonetheless, he called on another member of the garrison to accompany him up the road to the village of Cana. He chose Caius, the biggest and burliest of the group, because a single Roman soldier, however well-armed, was fair game for any band of brigands he might meet on the journey. Cana was about a mile and a half to the North and about half an hour’s brisk march.

The villa at which the wedding was taking place was not hard to identify. Cana was a small village and the villas, all six of them, were scattered around its approaches. The first villa the two soldiers came to seemed to be deserted for the day, no sign of life. The next villa, however, was a hive of activity; shouting, laughter and music all coming from the compound within the walls. And there, on a stand just outside the gate, were the two water jugs, just as the orange merchant had described, available for all passers-by to help themselves. At the gate, an old man with a donkey laden with flagons argued with a guard, the stream of annoyed conversation never ceasing.

“I’m the wine merchant. They asked me to come and bring more wine. I do their bidding, load up my animal, and what do I find when I get here? They don’t want the wine after all. They have more than they can handle. They say someone just supplied a better lot. For nothing.” He threw up his hands in disgust. “They completely undercut my prices. And I have supplied this house with wine for years. Can anyone tell me what’s going on?”

The guard at the gate watched the two soldiers approach.

“Do you mind if I try the water?” Marcus asked.

“Please yourself.” Roman soldiers were not the most favourite people here in Galilee. Marcus took a sip from one of the two jugs. Water, pure, clean and cold. He tried the other container. It was almost empty but the contents were definitely not water. The wine was good quality, too.

“Is it usual to put wine out here for the travellers?” he asked the guard.

“I don’t know anything about that,” was the sullen reply. “It must have got mixed up when they changed the jugs.”

“Someone said it came out of the well like this,” Marcus continued.

“All I do is check the guests as they enter,” said the guard, and as another two visitors walked up to the gate he unrolled a scroll. They were allowed entry only when he was sure they were on his list.

“Well, I need to look around,” Marcus told him. “I have reports of a strange occurrence and I need to check it out. It’s just routine, but all these things, big or small, have to be reported back to the Tribune. So I have to go in and see what is going on.”

The guard did not take too kindly to this but in the present time of Roman occupation the soldiers were going to get their way, anyway. Grudgingly he took a step back.

“You have to check your weapons. I can’t let you in, armed to the teeth. It’s a wedding, for goodness sake; no-one here is going to start a revolution.”

“A Roman soldier never surrenders his arms.” An indignant Marcus drew himself up to his full height. The plume on his helmet waved proudly in the breeze.

“No weapons – no entry.” The guard moved to block Marcus’s path. At the same time a group of four well-apportioned young men appeared, seemingly from nowhere, to lounge nearby. Marcus conferred with Caius who had already agreed to wait outside the gate. Finally he handed over his spear and shield.

“And the sword.” Marcus laid it on the ground.

“And the dagger.” It was handed to Caius. “Now you may enter.”

Marcus walked into the courtyard. Open tents had been set up as a protection from the sun, and guests milled around chattering and visiting. There was a tent completely stocked with all kinds of food from roast lamb and vegetables to grapes and oranges. And, of course, flagons of wine. Marcus could see the bride and bridegroom in another tent, surrounded by friends and relatives. But his priority was the well. He located it in one corner of the courtyard, and after peering into its depths to ascertain the water level, he lowered the bucket.

“Best water in the area!” A deep voice sounded behind him. Marcus hurriedly drew up the bucket, sniffed the contents and took a sip. It was good and it was no different from the water in the jug at the gate.

“I am Matthew. Welcome to my villa and my son’s wedding.” Marcus turned to see a handsome man in a long white garment. “We don’t usually see the emissaries of Rome here. Do you come on a business matter? Or has there been some sort of a problem? With all the guests on this happy day I hope nothing untoward has happened. So, how may I help you?”

Marcus took another drink from the bucket of water. His brisk march from the military detachment had left him thirsty. He considered how to approach the topic that needed investigating.

“We have just come from the detachment up the road. An orange seller, very drunk, as it happens, came past about three hours ago. He had a rather peculiar story about wine in water jugs.”

Matthew waited for Marcus to continue.

“The jugs outside..”

“Yes, they are for the travellers,” Matthew answered.

“They always contain water?”

“They do.”

“Never wine?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Then you should check one of them. It certainly has contained wine.”

Matthew looked puzzled. “The water comes straight from this well. The servants are responsible for keeping the jugs full. I wonder if….” He thought for a moment, “There’s someone here you should talk to. I’ll see if I can find him. Just wait and I’ll send him to you.” He gave a little bow, turned and hurried off in the direction of the crowd.

Marcus took this opportunity to take in his surroundings. The guard at the gate continued to check the visitors who came for the wedding celebrations. In another part of the compound a number of women, who were obviously in charge of matters, issued orders to servants. Guests were eating and drinking in another open tent and Marcus felt a momentary stab of hunger. He watched as a young man, wine cup in hand, detached himself from a crowd and walk towards him. He was dressed simply in a long robe, cinched at the waist. A pair of dusty sandals gave evidence that he had travelled a fair distance earlier that day.

“I bid you peace and welcome!” he said to Marcus. “Matthew told me you would like to talk to me.”

“Yes,” said Marcus who wanted to get to the bottom of the matter quickly. He explained again about the orange seller. “What can you tell me about this?” he asked.

“Well,” the other began. “With all the guests here someone had miscalculated the amount of wine we needed. It had almost all gone by midday. The celebrations have been going for two days now. So Mary, that’s my mother who is helping to organise this event, told me about the problem when I arrived. I called the wine merchant who usually supplies the villas with wine but did he come? No, he was delivering elsewhere.”

“But you did send out to the merchant?”

“Yes, of course. In fact he’s out there at the gate now. A bit ticked off, I think.”

“He’s planning to lay a complaint,” Marcus said. “He told me that someone has reneged on his contract. Wants to lay charges.”

“Really.” The young man raised an eyebrow.

“So what did you do to get him all annoyed?” Marcus went on.

“I don’t think I did anything. I just solved an immediate problem because my mother kept nagging – and she does go on sometimes. Anyway, I didn’t think anything would happen. I mean, changing water into wine! I was rather surprised when it did. And…”

“Just hold on a moment.” Marcus held up his hand to stop the flow. He looked dubiously at the young man from under his helmet. “We get reports of things like this happening all over the place. They never amount to much and the character involved is usually long gone when we get there. So your claim is water into wine?”

“Yes,” the enthusiasm continued. “And I’ve also discovered something else; it works the other way, too! It’s interesting watching the reactions. I can change it all back for you if you think I should.” He handed the soldier the cup he was carrying. Marcus took a sip, then a longer, more appreciative swallow. When he put the cup down he regarded the stranger with a respectful look.

“No. No, I wouldn’t do that.” He drank again, deeper this time. “No, I would leave things as they are. May be you’ve got something here. This is very good stuff. But you could turn it back into water? That is, if you wanted to?”

“Well, yes,” was the reply. “It wasn’t too difficult doing it the other way. I practised on a mug, just to see if it would work. It can cause quite a stir at mealtime – wine one minute, water the next.”

Marcus was silent, considering the implications.

“Ever thought of doing this on a bigger scale?” he asked.

“Well, that’s always a possibility,” came the reply, “But it could put the local wine industry out of business. I suppose they could always diversify if they had to. I’m told that olives and figs do quite well around here.”

“Just a minute.” The soldier stopped the proceedings as he remembered why he was here. He became more official. “We started with a simple problem, a drunk and disorderly orange merchant and now we have progressed to the suggestion of bringing down the local wine industry. I think you may have encouraged this.”

The young man looked crestfallen.

“I was only doing what I was asked to do. Would you let your mother down in a crisis?” he asked the soldier.

Marcus hesitated. He was torn between filial loyalties and the desire to see law and order in this part of the country.

“I’ll have to make a report about this,” he said, finally. “It will go all the way to the authorities in Jerusalem. They can look into it again if they see fit. So, if you could keep these…” he struggled for a word, “incidents… to a minimum, then probably not too much harm has been done. Meanwhile I’ll bid you ‘Good Day’.”

He gave a little bow and turned towards the gate. The wine had been very good, he thought; perhaps he would check the water jugs outside the villa once again.

“By the way,” Marcus spoke to the guard as he retrieved his spear and shield, “what is that fellow’s name?”

The guard thought for a while, trying to place him among the guests. “It began with a ‘J’, Joshua? Joseph? Jesse?” he ventured. He looked down at his scroll. “There it is.” He pointed a finger at a name. “Jesus. From Galilee.”

“Jesus. A Galilean. Well, I had better send in my report; the authorities in Jerusalem want to know every little thing out of the ordinary that goes on.”

Marcus sheathed his sword and dagger. Caius closed up in formation and the two soldiers prepared to march back down the road. Another guest arrived at the gate and the guard, without looking up, went through the process of checking him in.

“Name?” Marcus heard him ask.

“Lazarus.” The reply was clear. The finger read down the list of names.

“Right. There we are. Welcome, Lazarus. I remember you now from the last time you were here.”

Lazarus walked on through the gate. The guard straightened up and stretched, bored with his duties after so many hours.

“Ah, Lazarus,” he said, looking over his shoulder at the receding figure. “The life and soul of so many parties. Once he’s gone, we’ll probably never see the likes of him again!”


Jonathan Dean was born and educated in England. He came to Alberta in 1968 and taught in the public school system, introducing his students to quality literature. He has written many stories since then and hopes to epublish a collection later this year. In 2008 he produced the audio programme ‘Stone Soup’ for Voiceprint. This series of original stories and poems from current authors across Canada won a Gold Medal at the annual International Association of Audio Information Services at Cincinnati, Ohio in 2009. He is an occasional reporter for the Lethbridge Herald newspaper, a keen gardener and enthusiastic home chef.

Happy Birthday, Charlie!, by Jonathan Dean

“I want to get laid.”

The silence in the afternoon tea lounge was suddenly – deafening. Cups of milky Earl Grey tea remained suspended in mid-air, between saucers and lips; sandwiches with only one bite nibbled from them were returned to their plates and an errant piece of sponge cake fell to the floor, spreading a trail of crumbs as it rolled. Genteel conversation had stopped.

The innocent question had been posed by Ruth Denholme, Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor who was visiting ‘The Meadows’ retirement home. Two residents had reached the age of one hundred and each had received from Her Honour’s own hand a certificate acknowledging their longevity. Birthday cakes had been served, presents unwrapped and good wishes, along with a few appropriate jokes, had been heaped upon the two centenarians. As Ruth Denholme circulated among the tables, shaking hands, speaking a little louder than normal to accommodate various hearing aids, she came to Charlie Bright who sat in a strategic seat near one of the large windows.

Charlie, dressed for the occasion in his best sports jacket and tailored grey slacks, looked steadily at Ruth Denholme as he was introduced to the Lieutenant Governor.

“I would like you to meet Mr Charlie Bright, your Honour,” said Mrs Yates, the Retirement Home Director, as she accompanied the Lieutenant Governor around the room. “He will reach the age of one hundred next week. So this tea is, for him, a pre-birthday party. But we will make sure he has a special day for himself when his birthday actually arrives.”

Ruth Denholme extended the Honourable Hand to Charlie Bright who rose from his seat, gently took the outstretched limb and raised it to his lips. She smiled at the elegant gentleman who, at six foot two inches and with a full head of silvery hair, resembled a movie star of bygone days.

It was then that Her Honour posed the seemingly innocent question.

“And what would you like for your birthday?” she had asked, as if Charlie Bright’s childhood had never quite passed.

And Charlie Bright had continued to look straight back at her and had given his answer.

Ruth Denholme was a master at not reacting to the unusual and unexpected. Finessing the question with skill, she at once asked Charlie, who was still holding on to her,

“And do you think you will get lucky?”

Charlie Bright’s stare did not waver.

“I hope so, Madame, I really hope so,” was his answer.

And Her Honour, Ruth Denholme, the Queen’s representative, knew that Charlie wasn’t kidding. There was no embarrassed lowering of the eyes or uncomfortable giggle from either of them. Charlie Bright had told her exactly what he wanted. A rather refreshing departure, Ruth thought, from the usual wishes for visits from grandchildren and other family members, or a trip out to some local mall or a transatlantic phone call from an old friend. No, Charlie Bright wanted something he would enjoy. Good for him, she thought. The business of afternoon tea had resumed by now, but the buzz of conversation had notched up a few decibels and Charlie’s name or ‘he’ or ‘that man’ could be heard from the depths of a number of armchairs. Ruth Denholme completed her visit, checked her schedule with her aide, said a few words about how lovely it had all been and then took her farewell. On her way out, she stopped in the Director’s Office for a few words.

“You must excuse Mr Bright,” said Mrs Yates. “I never thought he would come up with – that suggestion. It was not the place to use that sort of language and I would like to offer you our most sincere apologies. I do hope you were not too offended.” She paused, trying to put the apples back into the cart.

Ruth Denholme leaned towards the Director.

“Do you know, Mrs Yates, he is probably more honest than most people when asked that question. I have seen so many people fishing around wondering what they would like for their birthday and I have heard ‘I don’t want anything at my age’ so many times that I have lost count. Mr Bright knows what he wants.”

“Well, he’s not going to get it here,” said Mrs Yates. “I won’t allow it.”

“Is that so?” said Ruth Denholme. “My feeling is that we should try to see that his birthday wish comes true. Maybe a solution will become apparent in the next few days?”

Mrs Yates was just about to dismiss Ruth Denholme’s suggestion when she realised that perhaps the Lieutenant Governor was quite serious. She swallowed a few times, took a couple of deep breaths and looked up at the woman who was still standing in front of her.

“Are you saying that I should…we should…that Charlie Bright…I don’t know how to…”


“Right. Proceed.”

“Let me say. Mrs Yates, that now his wishes are known, a solution will eventually present itself. No problem is unsolvable if the will is there. I would be obliged if you will let me know what the outcome is – when does he turn one hundred?”

“In ten days time,” said Mrs Yates, flustered by her guest’s request.

“Then I shall await your report, unofficial I might add, sometime later this month. Now, I regret I have to leave for my next appointment, children’s kindergarten classes at the school, quite the opposite end of the age scale. Thank you again for this opportunity to meet your staff and the residents.”

Ruth Denholme found it difficult to suppress a chuckle as she made her way out to her official car. As it drove off, she finally burst out laughing at the incredible situation she had just witnessed.

Katie Lynne Dempster, a reporter form the local newspaper who had been sent to cover the Lieutenant Governor’s visit, flipped open her cell phone and called her editor.

“Can you send someone else to the L.G’s next venue?” she asked. “I’m on to something here. Just trust me,” she replied when asked why she couldn’t keep to her appointed schedule. She snapped the lid back on her phone. Katie Lynne knew that her editor would give her the leeway she needed now that she was on to something. After fifteen years of hard work for the paper she had developed quite an ability to come up with an interesting story.

Katie Lynne Dempster was in her mid-thirties. A large woman with a homely rather than a good-looking figure, an open face and a mess of unkempt curly blonde hair, she stood just under six feet tall even in her flat shoes. Unmarried, no current boyfriend, between relationships she always told the inquisitive, no sex life whispered her co-workers, and newspaper reporting was her consuming passion. She would often work late into the night in her office, disregarding any attempt at social offers that came to her, and every week her articles were featured prominently in the city newspaper. And editors of some of the big national dailies always took notice if something of hers appeared in print or on line. Today she knew she had a winner. With an eye-catching headline she could trump local calamities and miseries of the world with a story about an unusual birthday wish. She had considerable hopes that this would stir up a real debate about what life was like for the elderly.

As soon as the visiting dignitaries had left, Katie Lynne gathered up her notepad, pen and camera. Instead of following the Lieutenant Governor out of the building, she headed over to where Charlie Bright was still sitting, savouring a final cup of tea. Switching on her most radiant smile she introduced herself to the handsome old gentleman.

“So, a reporter,” he commented after all the preliminaries were over. “Local paper interested in an old man, eh? You should be talking to these other old ladies who really are one hundred. They’re the ones Her Honour came to see.” Charlie took another sip from his tea cup.

“They will be suitably covered, Mr Bright,” said Katie Lynne. “It was about them that I came here. See, I have a whole pad of notes about them and photos with Ruth Denholme.” She waved her yellow pad in front of Charlie. “But I couldn’t help but feel intrigued by what you wished for you birthday. I think it took Her Honour by surprise.”

Charlie Bright gave her a share of the same steady look which he had turned on to the Lieutenant Governor.

“And why shouldn’t it?” he asked. “A natural part of life, I would have thought?”

Katie Lynne nodded. I suppose I would have to agree with that, she thought.

“Tell me about yourself, Mr Bright,” she said, “and then, if I may, I will take your photograph?”

Charlie Bright leaned forward.

“I’ll give you the short version,” he said. “A hundred years of my life is not going to be read by too many of your audience.”

The following day, the local city paper ran the article about the Lieutenant Governor’s visit. The headline announced the centenarians’ birthdays and then there was the obligatory photograph of Ruth Denholme having tea and cake with the two ladies who were celebrating the day. Further down the page a shorter paragraph mentioned the conversation she had had with Charlie Bright. Mrs Yates initially considered quietly removing the papers from the Common room but she knew that it would be impossible to suppress the article entirely.

As Katie Lynne Dempster had expected, it didn’t take long for the eagle-eyed readers from the big national papers to become aware of Charlie Bright’s request. By noon, phone calls had been made to Katie Lynne and then to the retirement home, and a local television station had expressed an interest in Charlie’s remarks. Of course, in the present age of digital communication, comments were posted on the internet and then, as they say, ‘it all went viral.’

Mrs Yates acted fast to minimise any damage and upheaval to her residents. All reporters were barred from the place. Phones gave out a recorded message about there being ‘no comment’ and emails were transferred to a special folder so that they didn’t clog the operation of the home.

“They’re coming from as far away as Australia, Sweden and even Africa,” the secretary reported as she managed the computer.

“And the contents?” Mrs Yates asked.

“Most of them want to help him out. They would like to deliver his present in person!”

Mrs Yates thought about what Ruth Denholme had suggested. For once, her own years of experience in dealing with difficult situations had deserted her. So for the next few days she diplomatically fielded ‘enquiries’ from near and afar. She noticed that quite a number of the Home’s residents were suddenly taking advantage of the visiting hair-stylist who reported requests for ‘something new’ or ‘something that would make me stand out in a crowd’ or simply ‘make me look sexy.’

On Saturday morning, five days after the famous request, a knock came on Mrs Yates’ office door. A few residents had made ‘enquiries’ about Charlie Bright but the two ladies who entered had a somewhat more determined air about them.

Janet and Jane Clements were two sisters in their late seventies. “Only one year and a ‘t’ separate us” they would chirp merrily to anyone who was introduced to them. Usually they would chat to Mrs Yates in the public areas over coffee or talk about the weather with an eye to taking a walk downtown. But today they had come with a purpose and the first matter of business was to ask if they could close the office door?

“Certainly,” said Mrs Yates.

There was a pause.

“We thought that…we came to…” Both sisters started at once then lapsed back into silence, obviously not knowing quite how to begin.

“Janet,” said Mrs Yates in her most understanding voice. “Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind?”

Janet Clements looked at her younger sister, took a deep breath, and started to talk in a voice that came out an octave too high. She swallowed a couple of times and began again.

“Jane and I were talking – about Charlie.” She stopped and Mrs Yates waited.


“Well, you see, we were at the tea last Monday and we couldn’t help overhearing Charlie, Charlie’s request, his birthday wish, and, well, we got to talking and we just wondered if…well, how…”

“…if we could help.” Jane assisted her floundering sister to shore.

“We’ve never been married or anything,” said Janet, grateful for the rescue, “and it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen…”

“Anytime soon,” sister Jane added.

“And I’ve never…” a pause, “never, well, you know, done – anything – it – ever in my life.”

“I did once, when I was eighteen,” said Jane.

“And Jane told me it was quite nice,” said Janet soldiering on.

Mrs Yates smiled at the choice of words. ‘Quite nice’ was an interesting quantification of the particular situation.

“And so we were wondering – I was wondering if we could – I could – deliver Charlie’s present? In person?”

Mrs Yates leaned forward in her chair.

“Janet,” she said quietly, “I am not the person who decides this matter of Mr Bright’s birthday present. It was an unusual request, or maybe it wasn’t, unexpected is probably a better word for it. All I ask is that you think very carefully about what you are suggesting.”

“Oh yes, we have both thought about that,” said Jane.

“Then why don’t you wait just a little longer to make your decision. And you might even find out that Mr Bright has plans of his own. A little judicial sleuthing on your part, perhaps?”

“Oh yes, Mrs Yates, I fully understand,” said Janet. She turned to her sister. “Let’s go and do some more research on this,” she said. “I’ll read that book again that I got from the library.”

They got up to leave.

“Were you planning to do this in Mr Bright’s suite?” asked Mrs Yates.

“Ah,” said Jane. “Another problem to solve. Come along Janet. Things to do!”

When they had left her office, Mrs Yates sat for a long time mulling over the situation. She had decided some time ago that she was not going to facilitate anything that would bring the Retirement Home into questionable repute. The readers of tabloid newspapers and viewers of on the spot television were all hoping for some titillating facts; she had even heard that a book had been planned and that Charlie Bright was to be offered a cool half a million dollars for his part in writing it. How, at the age of one hundred, she wondered, would he plan to spend that sort of money?

She was roused from her thoughts by the sudden ring of the telephone. It was Katie Lynne Dempster who wished to speak to her face to face.

“How about this afternoon, four o’clock work for you?” Mrs Yates set up the appointment, wondering what was so urgent. Perhaps this reporter who had really let the cat out of the bag could find some way of recapturing and returning it.

“I think I have a solution to this – ah – dilemma,” said Katie Lynne as she occupied the same seat that Janet and Jane had vacated earlier.

“Really!” Mrs Yates observed, dryly.

“I set this ball rolling. I didn’t expect it to travel so far but maybe I can do something to stop it.”

Mrs Yates raised her eyebrows, and waited.

“I would like to take Charlie Bright out for his birthday, a date if you want to call it something. Nice meal, a show, perhaps to the casino, whatever he fancies.”

“And then?”

“If he wants to come back here after that, I’ll bring him back. If not, we’ll see how things develop. I might even invite him somewhere for a nightcap.” She stopped, the innuendo hanging in the air.

The look on Mrs Yates’ face did not change as she considered the possibilities.

“I think perhaps you had better talk to Mr Bright about your date,” she said. “And I would probably do it immediately. I have had countless approaches concerning Charlie’s birthday wish. Just this morning two very spry seventy somethings sat exactly where you are now and offered to help celebrate his day. Not to mention emails from Lola and Samantha and quite a few more. And the National Press phones regularly just to see if there’s any development. So I would suggest that you arrange an itinerary with Mr Bright for next Saturday and hope that nobody follows you.”

“I’ll go and talk to him right now,” said Katie Lynne, getting up from her chair. “Where will I find him?”

Charlie Bright was outside on the garden patio enjoying a warm spring afternoon. He was tending to the roses which were starting to bloom. He looked up, secateurs in hand, as Katie Lynne approached.

“Mr Bright – Charlie – I’ve come to ask you for a date,” she began. “Here’s what I had in mind.”

Charlie lowered the secateurs. He gave Katie Lynne one of his long steady stares, the beginning of a smile growing around his lips as he listened to what she had to say..

“I get to do all this?”

“You only reach one hundred once!”

“What time shall I be ready?” was Charlie’s only other question.

Katie Lynne took special care with her appearance for Saturday night. She wore a knee-length silk dress with patterns of roses and she draped a light-weight cardigan over her shoulders. She had her hair trimmed and a couple of discreet highlights added. A new pair of leather shoes, with flat heels, completed the picture. A quick dab of perfume and she was ready.

Charlie Bright, immaculately dressed in grey slacks, blue blazer and a showy cravat, was waiting for her in his room. As she entered, she glanced at the many cards and bouquets of flowers from friends and well-wishers which filled the apartment. Charlie plucked a rose from a convenient bunch and handed it to her with a gentle bow. It matched the colour of her dress and Charlie Bright beamed with pleasure.

“Lead on,” he said. “I am entirely in your hands.”

Instead of walking the hallway and passing through the common sitting area, they took an elevator to the underground parking lot.

“I thought it better to park down here,” said Katie Lynne. “Then we wouldn’t have to run the gauntlet of anyone waiting for you at the front of the building. There was a small group of press people near the front door, so this exit will avoid them.”

Charlie grinned.

“You’ve been watching too many spy movies,” he told her. “Shall I also slump down in my seat?”

“As you wish,” said Katie Lynne. “Now where shall we go first?”

They returned at eleven thirty. The Home was quiet, most guests having retired for the night. This time Katie Lynne pulled up to the front entrance and she and Charlie got out of the car.

“I should tell Mrs Yates that I have brought you home safely,” Katie Lynne said, slipping her hand through Charlie’s arm. “Then I’ll walk you to your room.”

“It was a wonderful evening,” said Charlie. “The casino, the restaurant, the dancing – I haven’t done all that since, since…” he paused.

“I understand,” said Katie Lynne, “and from what you told me this evening you have had such a wonderful life. I’m so glad that I have been this tiny part of it.”

“We’ll do it again next year,” said Charlie as they went inside.

Mrs Yates came out of her office and welcomed the two of them.

“You will have to tell me the story of your adventures when you get a moment,” she said.

“This young lady has been so kind to me,” said Charlie. “We both had a wonderful evening.”

“It’s not over yet,” said Mrs Yates. “There’s a visitor waiting for you. I said that you would probably come through the common room area and that you wouldn’t be hard to miss.” She winked at Katie Lynne.

Charlie Bright looked puzzled.

“Who on earth…at this time of night…it’s nearly midnight?” And he strode off towards the central common room. He pulled up short when he saw his visitor waiting for him.

“Bertram?” he said quietly. Then, louder, “Bertram? Bertie!!” he shouted.

Bertram Thwaite rose slowly to his feet and turned towards Charlie. A grin stretched across his face as the two men fell into each others arms and hugged and slapped each other on the back. When they drew apart, Bertram picked up a small bag.

“I came with your present, Charlie,” he said. “I know it’s rather late but…better late then never, eh?”

Charlie Bright unlocked his door. He put his arm around Bertram’s shoulder and just before he disappeared, he gave Katie Lynne and Mrs Yates a little wave.

“Who is Bertram?” Katie Lynne asked Mrs Yates.

Mrs Yates looked around her as if making sure nobody else was listening.

“We had a really interesting long chat when he arrived. He told me about himself, his whole life, practically. He’s ninety years old, would you believe! Then he told me why he came here. He said he wanted to bring Charlie’s birthday present in person.”

Mrs Yates paused.

“He’s Charlie’s special boyfriend!” she whispered.



Jonathan Dean was born and educated in England. He came to Alberta in 1968 where he taught instrumental and choral music and a Grade 4 classroom and introduced his students to quality literature. He has written many stories since then. In 2008 he produced the audio programme ‘Stone Soup’ for Voiceprint. This series of original stories and poems from current authors across Canada won a Gold Medal at the annual International Association of Audio Information Services at Cincinnati, Ohio in 2009.  He is an occasional reporter for the Lethbridge Herald newspaper, a keen gardener and enthusiastic home chef.

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